My grandmother, who I’ve talked about quite a lot on this site, passed away this week just a few days before her 97th birthday. She was an inspiration to me in almost every way that affects this blog: canning, gardening, cooking, and even just appreciating the delight of fresh, homegrown food. She always insisted that the best recipes were the simplest ones, and that “modern recipes” just had too many unnecessary ingredients. I frequently watched her shake her head and scoff at magazine recipes bedazzled with so many obscure herbs and spices that you’d hardly be able to taste the feature of the dish (let alone afford to make it). Since she was renowned for what she could do with food from seed to table, I usually find it’s best to heed the advice she seemed to live by: grow food, buy fresh, cook simply, and savor the resulting meal.
To honor my grandmother, I want to share with you some of the simple, basic recipes that I rely upon heavily in my daily cooking. I admit, I feel both ridiculous for sharing them and also ridiculous for keeping them from you for so long. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to share here in this space, and I often think, “nah, they don’t wanna hear about this, it’s nothing fancy.”
But then I remember that many of these dishes have entered my kitchen in only the last few years: why should I assume that they are already in yours? It seems unfair to keep them to myself. Plus, while I’m sure we all love the idea of elaborate culinary projects resulting in surprising and impressive dishes, my guess is that most of you (like me) are ultimately just trying to put dinner on the table every night without relying on a microwave dinner or a frozen pizza. For me, having an repertoire composed of simple, savory dishes is the key to making this happen.
This is one of my favorite side dishes both in flavor and style, it goes well with just about anything, and it starts and ends with a bunch of carrots. Though many of us get our carrots mostly in the form of stripped-down nubbins that appear on veggie platters at office parties, this dish uses the whole thing. For this particular dish, I like to use the thinnest carrots I can find.
It’s June! And this first day of June is many things!
1. The first day of June, which is exciting enough on its own
2. The first day of National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month
3. The first day of National Accordion Awareness Month (who knew we even had that? Consider yourself aware.)
3. Mah birthday!
I’m spending the day doing what any sensible girl would do. Reading on the balcony, possibly getting a pedicure, re-organizing my spices in tiny matching jars (!!!!!!), taking a stab at cooking crème brûlée, seeing a movie with friends… it’s a lovely day off! Full of little birthday presents to myself.
My birthday present to you, however, are these cookies.
Last year around this time, we talked about carrot cake. I was never a particularly big fan in the past, but I now frequently find myself craving those tender bites of spice-filled, textured cake topped with a healthy dollop of tangy icing. Plus, the carrots in my garden are now bursting from the soil (okay not bursting, they actually require rather a lot of coaxing to come out of the ground), and my experiment with a curious variety put carrot cake on the top of my list to make.
Aren’t these neat? I wish I had taken pictures of them straight out of the earth, their brilliant fuschia dims slightly within minutes: they are easily the most intriguing vegetable I’d planted so far. And what fun would it be to use purple carrots for carrot cake?
Spring has most definitely sprung in North Carolina. And from the looks of Facebook statuses from friends across the country, it has sprung in many other places, too. It’s a time for swapping socks for flip flops, coats for t-shirts, and huddling in a blanket for lounging on the balcony.
But I also love the rainstorms. The thunderheads that roll in over the afternoon and burst into lighting and rain as night falls.
These nights call for cozy. These nights call for soup.
Soup is pretty easy cooking. Some of my meals literally seem to use every one of the dishes in my kitchen, but soup pot’s got my back. It’s totally cool with me spending the rest of the evening watching West Wing instead of cleaning up from dinner. The cutting board, on the other hand, gets quite a workout.
I’m not exactly sure when I made the transition from thinking I hated carrot cake to eyeballing it with lust at bakeries. It seems to be one of those desserts with distinct factions: the lovers, the haters, and the folks who are mostly there for the cream cheese icing. I was somewhere in between those last two.
But whatever triggered this change in taste has permanently embedded carrot cake on my list of desserts to make whenever carrots find their way into my fridge.
For some reason I’ve always strongly associated carrots with fall harvests, not spring ones. Perhaps it’s because they are orange and fit oh so nicely into the autumn palette. I’ll be honest, there are lots of “when food grows” ideas that I’ve had to re-address after moving here. We arrived last August, and I kept waiting… and waiting… and waiting for carrots, storage onions, and potatoes to appear. A couple of vendors had carrots for about two weeks in early November, but that was it.
Recently, however, tables at the market have buckled under the weight of carrots so fresh the dirt still clings to them.
There are SO many recipes for carrot cake out there. Some with pineapple, some have apple sauce, some with a wide range of semi-exotic spices. I decided to try a family favorite from one of my dad’s cousins. It’s simple, but according to my mom it’s “soooooooo good!” Direct quote.